Thursday, May 14, 2020

Boys' Club

There is a cliché that's been making the rounds for a while; it goes a little something like this: Problems that impact women's health don't inspire legislation to remedy them because the United States Congress is made up of mostly men. If these problems impacted men as much as they do women, Congress would have addressed them some time ago.

Okay, I'll bite. Why?

I get that this is conventional/received wisdom; male members of Congress are a bunch of unreconstructed sexists who are card-carrying members of the Inner Circle of the Evil Patriarchy. But doesn't this presume that members of Congress are somehow more sexist than Americans at large? After all, Congresspeople (one presumes) are human, too; they have mothers, wives, sisters, daughters et cetera that they care about. (After all members of Congress don't seem to be any less likely to be married or have children than Americans as a whole.) Are we really presuming that election to the national legislature somehow makes the men of Congress more likely to sacrifice their female family members than the rest of us? Or that these same female family members are somehow more likely to be on-board with this than other women?

In other words, is the problem really Congress? Either Congressmen are a reflection of the public at large, or said public has a penchant for electing people more sexist than themselves into office. Either way, the problem seems to be with the public, rather than the few hundred men in Congress. But I understand the impulse to blame Congress for this. It's the nature of populism to divide the world into the virtuous "people" and the corrupt "élites," and Congress is always a convenient bastion of the élite that can be cast as a pit of vipers.

The cliché has the ring of "truthiness" about it, in that it seems plausible and offers a conveniently simple explanation for something that is likely quite complicated. As long as one doesn't examine it particularly closely, anyway, and that's kind of thing about truthiness; once a statement has acquired that quality, people tend not to look into it that deeply, in much the same way that people don't bother to closely examine a lot of mundane information. But maybe a closer look would serve well here, as a means of mobilizing the voters who act as the power behind the throne.

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